The Cemetery in San Martín Jilotepeque
We started today by touring the cemetery next door to our hotel in San Martín Jilotepeque. Graves dated back to the 1800’s. I love all the colors of the mausoleums. Mausoleums painted in colors entomb Mayans, while those painted in all white, entomb Catholic. A combination of white and color constitutes a grave for a mixed person. There were quite a few colored graves in this community, home to 87% indigenous people.
Jilotepeque or Xilotepeque is a Náhuatl name. Xilotle means fresh ear of corn and Tepetl means hills. Thus Jilotepeque means Hills of Fresh Corn. The City was first settled in the post classic Mayay period of the 13th centure in Chwa Nima Ab’ aj now known as the Ruins of Mixco Viejo. These are the ruins we planned to visit today as we took a day off from volunteering.
The Market in San Martín Jilotepeque
As usual, we walked to Kristi’s restaurant for breakfast, and while we waited for her to prepare our sack lunches for our excursion we took an impromptu tour of the local market. As many of my readers know, this is one of my favorite things to do, especially when market is local and not catered to tourists! Today’s market was busy as many locals came into town for Palm Sunday.
Our tour was quick, but we managed to see the fruit and veggie sections, the meat and chicken sections complete with chicken feet and a hoof, the flower section, as well as some clothing areas just to name a few. At the end of the market, we came across several baby chicks for sale. I don’t know if this was for Palm Sunday and the upcoming Easter celebrations or if they are always for sale for locals to raise.
Chwa Nima Ab’aj (The Ruins of Mixco Viejo)
After walking through the market, we boarded the buses and took the hour drive to Chwa Nima Ab’aj also known as the Ruins of Mixco Viejo where we met Dimas who explained the Mayan culture to us. The complex includes 15 groups and 120 structures. We visited four of the groups, starting with group D.
Group D includes a temple and a circular area for worshipping. Mayans worship women, the number three, water, the south, energy, and life and death at this location. The ceremonies generally last 4-6 hours as they sacrifice many items.
We started with a fire to celebrate happiness. Fortunately, our ceremony only lasted 15 minutes as the sun was out in full force today. The offerings Dimas used today were candles which acted as a vessel to speak to the other world, flowers which represented gratitude for life, chocolate which represents wealth and energy, and a cigar whose smoke cleanses you. We each added a sky blue candle for the cosmos, before we held hands in a circle and shared a moment of silence. Then we passed around the chocolate and cigar for anyone who wanted a sweet treat or to puff the stogie.
After our ceremony, we walked to Group A. The pyramid at this location is the tallest (23 ft) in the complex and acted as the church for the whole city. The pyramid, built of rocks from a river a mile away, is important to both the physical and emotional beliefs of the Mayans. Its 27 steps represent the 20 spirits and 7 sacred physical aspects. For example, the Mayans believe life came from Pleiades with 7 stars. Seven can being seen in many places in life, like 7 colors in the rainbow, 7 wonders of the world, and 7 days for creation.
Also, the temple has two sets of these steps which represents duality. They believe that everything has energy, both positive and negative, which can be changed. For example, growing up his family had an avocado tree that was weak and not producing much fruit. His father hung a rock from the tree to force the limbs to grow stronger and produce more fruit.
The steps on the temple are very narrow so that the only way to climb the stairs is sideways. This way their back is not turned against the sun in the sky or against the people on the ground; therefore, respect is shown to both.
Group A also included several platforms and a practice court for their games.
From Group A, we continued to Group B located in the center of the city. This area was very important to the royals due to the twin pyramids which represent the masculine and feminine neutrality in the Mayan religion. Both sexes are very important as the coming together produces life. In front of the pyramid are three alters for the earth, moon and sun. Three is a very important number for the Mayans. Orion’s Belt has three stars. The Mayans believe that every 5,200 years there is an exchange of energy between Orion’s Belt and the sun. This represents a new beginning, not the end of the world that was falsely referenced on 12/21/2012.
Across from the twin pyramids is an observatory which is distinguished by having one set of stairs on the bottom that opens into two sets of stairs halfway up the structure. Mayans used these observatories to tell time.
The most important ball court is also located in Group B. The court, shaped in a capital I which Mayans believe to be the shape of the universe, was used for more than just fun. It was also used in the justice system. The court is dug underground for people to go into the underworld to play their Maya Ballgame, a branch of the Mesoamerican Ballgame.
Historically, the ballgame was played to fight evil and represented the forces of darkness and light. In the justice system, the ballgame was played to settle disputes. For example, the game might be played to settle a land dispute. Whoever wins gets the land as they respect divine intervention. The game which is played by two teams of seven people may last up to two weeks.
The players dressed with leather protection on their hips and chest and sometimes on the knees and arms and sometimes a headdress. The clothing was used as protection from the rubber ball which weighed 3-4 kilograms or like an 8-pound bowling ball! The ball could only be put into play from the right hip, elbow or knee and could not touch the ground. The offense passed the ball with the above-mentioned body parts from player to player and tried to hit the ball through a tiny hole in a stone carved shape known as the ball court marker. The object of the defense was to cause the offense to let the ball fall to the ground.
It’s no wonder the game lasted so long. I can’t imagine hitting an eight-pound ball above my head into a tiny hole with my knee, elbow or hip.
We enjoyed lunch in the shade of the trees by Group B while listening to locusts harmonizing, before we headed to the final area of our visit at Group C. This is the highest point in the city and is the location for the main observatory. Holes were drilled in the walls in order to see the stars.
We sat beneath the shade of the Saba tree, which the Mayans considered sacred as the roots mirror the branches mimicking duality, while listening to more stories that Dimas shared with us including the Mayan’s offering a person’s soul to space travel. They are tied up inside a ring of fire and are surrounded by 20 shamans. They are tied up because no one would want to come back from space and this keeps them grounded.
We also learned about the history of the Mayans and Spanish. The Mayans survived two attacks by the Spanish at this location, but sucombed to the 3rd attack in 1525 when the Spanish found a secret passage. The Spanish thought there was gold here, but the real treasure was a natural spring.
Many Mayans were killed and survivors were used as slaves, as the Spanish thought the Mayans practiced witchcraft. For example, the Mayans worshipped the serpent as it represented authority, but for the Spanish it represented the devil. In addition, the Mayans used fire to communicate with their gods, but the Spanish associated fire with hell.
Over time, however, they have come to understand one another and their culture and religions have been blended together.
Before we left, Dimas gave us each a piece of obsidian, the only thing the Mayans had as weapons against the Spanish. In addition, he also demonstrated a rock spinning routine that some Mayans practice as they believe life works in cycles like the earth spinning around the sun, vines circling around tree trunks, and dogs spinning in circles.
Thanks to Dimas, we learned a substantial amount about the Mayans today. Soon we returned to the bus, had some down time at the hotel and finished off the night with spaghetti at Cristy’s. ETB
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